Having spent most of my life in a forest area near Nagpur, we have always lived with mere basic appliances. Air conditioners and Microwaves were distant dreams so to say. Our house was a simple 3BHK bungalow, which must have been designed by an engineer rather than an architect. Entrance to the house was from the north and there was a spacious garden on the periphery with big shading trees. So we had allocated different rooms for different seasons; the living room was for winter mornings as we used to get direct sunlight in the house due to its northeast orientation and master bedroom was mostly used in summer evenings due to its south-east orientation. At the most, coolers were used in summers to counter the afternoon heat. Mercury ranged between 42º-47º in this part of our country. One thing was clear here, certain rooms were good for certain times of the year and some basic appliance could help cope with the extreme condition.
Then after a few years I got through into architecture and even during this tenure, we were taught about building orientation and what impact does it have on our spaces. I could easily correlate with it as I had spent most of my life shifting rooms from season to season and I am sure everybody else could relate to this, as every house has the same story. Here, I was taught how a room can be designed for a specific season and what role orientation and fenestration play in this.
After completing my architecture course, I shifted to Pune; this city was love at first site. Maybe because of the greenery it possessed, as I grew up in the forest and was looking for a place, which can take me back there.
Here I lived in an apartment, which was shocking at the first instance. Nothing I could see here was as per the books I had learnt from. Nothing was designed to suit the climate. Nobody spoke about glare and light. Here, FAR was more important than orientation.
I was working in Air-conditioned offices, then how could I design a house that does not need air conditioning! Air-conditioning was the simplest solution derived by the western world for all our problems. So we designed rooms irrespective of where the window opens and knew that we have Air-conditioners to come to our rescue. Cross ventilation is the thing of the past. I have seen apartments where windows are provided for mere views and the cost per sqft area increases per floor because of that view. I could see long dark passages where light could not reach, forget ventilation. Apartments are made just to be sold and not as a social responsibility. Builders and Architects are just taking advantage of an ignorant client who feels that architecture means just aesthetics.
I could see deforestation happening in front of my eyes. Trees were giving way to roads. Once we used to walk under the shade of trees and now we walk under the shade of flyovers and bridges. No shade for a cycle rider to stop and drink some water. Earlier the temperature in summers used to be around 37º and now it is around 45º. It is disheartening to realise that a 4.5 billion-year-old planet is undergoing the most disastrous change in just the past 150 years.
So what is the problem with Air conditioners?
According to Alicia Lawrence, Air conditioners have an environmental impact in more ways than one, but the most significant are the inputs and the outputs. These popular cooling machines do not just function on their own; they are powered by electricity. The effects of electricity production alone can be very detrimental to the world in which we live. The hazardous pollutants pumped into the air from traditional fossil fuels are one of the top sources of negative environmental impact.
Not only is the energy consumption detrimental, but the gases emitted from air conditioners are also affecting the environment. Many, if not most of the most harmful CFC gases, have been stamped out via the Montreal Protocol, which reduces the emission of pollutants, but the gases that are still being emitted have a huge impact on global warming. It has been said that 27% of all global warming will be due to the gases emitted from air conditioning by the year 2050. This shocking statistic is largely due to the expected increase of use of air conditioning as temperatures continue to rise, thus creating a cycle of damage.
My appeal to all Architects and Builders is:
- We go back to school and practice what we were taught.
- We just need to be aware of the situation and make sure that at least the orientation of the building and fenestration is respecting the site climatic condition. This small step will do half of the job.
- Use cavity walls wherever necessary.
- Try giving cross ventilation to almost all rooms. Start using courtyards and wind catchers for cross ventilation.
- The number of trees in the society should be equal to the number of families living in the society.
- Do terracing using simple methods like using broken ceramic tiles.
- Façade glazing to be smartly integrated.
- Use software like SketchUp to analyse sun movement. This will tell you if the fenestration is doing its job.
- Provide balconies in southern and western sides as far possible. This will block glare but allow the wind to come in.
I am not saying that we need to completely eliminate air conditioning but a small step can at least reduce the consumption of Air conditioners.
About the author:
Siddharth Singh, is the principal architect of Green Hat Studio, Pune. Since starting his own practice, he has tasted a fair bit of success since then. Recently he won an award in the prestigious Delhi Architecture Festival Awards 2016.